[The pictures in this post were taken at Mbwa wa Afrika, a rescue and shelter in Arusha, Tanzania.]
July 20th marked my 30th birthday and one of the most memorable days I’ve ever experienced. I decided to spend my day helping animals, especially street dogs who were rescued and now living in a shelter. As I have been directing an all-volunteer animal welfare organization for the past nine years, I knew I wanted these dogs to be a part of my birthday memories.
The huge population of street animals is a significant challenge in Tanzania, where I am from and live. Helping these dogs and preventing their suffering has been a big goal of mine for some time, so it has been an easy decision to commit any spare time I have to helping these poor animals who daily fight for their lives.
Nine years ago, I decided to start focusing my attention on animals are particularly neglected within my community, despite the fact that they are a significant part of our daily life. This includes dogs, cats, and donkeys, all of whom are so often forgotten or abused within our community. The best way that I saw to tackle this problem was to start a volunteer organization which I named Meru Animal Welfare Organization (MAWO), named after the Mt. Meru district where I live. Since then, MAWO has had a huge impact in our community and in the lives of countless animals.
(The pictures above are of Johnson working with Sandra at Mbwa wa Afrika's shelter.)
In Tanzania, like many developing countries, we have innumerable street dogs roaming around looking for scraps of food, water, and a safe place to rest or keep their litters. In some cases, people in the community do take “ownership” over a dog, keeping it around to protect the house, yet they often neglect the animals’ most basic needs. The vast majority of street dogs, however, rely only on the garbage dumps for nourishment and habitat. Because of this, many dogs easily carry or transmit rabies, thus causing a dangerous hazard to our community and children.
The overpopulation of these street dogs are also a significant challenge to our community. Sadly, it is usually through horribly inhumane methods that people attempt to curb the dog overpopulation. Campaigns of poisoning, shooting, electrocution, drowning, starvation, and other cruel methods have been used to “dispose” of these unwanted animals. What more, these acts are often carried out in front of children, leaving them with a scar of violence in their memory and perpetuating cruelty to animals.
These methods of killing are not only brutal, they are ineffective. Though they may serve as an immediate solution, they are hardly effective in the long-term. Programs like our catch and release spay and neuter programs are significantly more impactful. It is one of MAWO’s aims to spread this knowledge and educate our community on compassion to these animals.
These past nine years of working for animal welfare taught me that the best way to effect change in my community is through education. I and the MAWO team began integrating educational initiatives through development of training programs, school clubs, community and mobile clinics where we vaccinate dogs and train their owners on basic care. We also educate the community on the importance of spay/neuter, rabies prevention, and humane treatment of animals. Each year we march alongside many participating in the World Rabies Day March and International Spay Day events.
Similarly, MAWO works to improve the welfare of donkeys, who are often neglected or abused by their owners. These initiatives include:
Donkey Mobile Clinic (deworming, hoof-trimming, eye care, and wound treatment)
Harness training for donkey owners
Community donkey welfare training
Radio educational broadcasts
Education programs in school clubs and livestock colleges
Throughout our progress and growth, it has remained a sizeable challenge to raise sufficient funds to run our initiatives. We still don’t receive funds from the Tanzanian government, but have noticed increased awareness and support from government officials. For example, government-employed vets have joined us in our mobile clinic and community volunteer efforts. Then, last year we were extremely proud that the government animal inspector awarded MAWO with the 2014/15 Animal Welfare Award, and I was given the Donkey Welfare Ambassador award!
(Picture above: Johnson and Sandra from Mbwa wa Afrika)
I strongly believe we at MAWO will achieve our goals of bettering the lives of animals in our community by using the three “C”s: Compassion, Collaboration, and Creativity. Through this work we will teach our children, change the next generation, and make the world a better place for all animals.